Remarks by President Michael D. Higgins at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
Sligo, 10th August 2014
A Theachtaí Dála,
A Dhaoine Uaisle,
Tá áthas orm a bheith libh anseo i Sligeach inniu chun oscailt na 63ú Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann a cheiliúradh. ‘Sí buaicphointe cultúrtha na hÉireann chuile bhliain í an Fleadh, agus is ócáid í ina fheictear toradh go leor oibre i gcaitheamh na bliana ag pobail trasna na tire, agus thar lear, go deimhin. Is ócáid í a thugann deis dúinn scoth chultúr na hÉireann a cheiliúradh ina bhfoirmeacha éagsúla: ár gceol, ár n-amhráin, ár ndamhsa agus ár dteanga.
[I am delighted to be here with you in Sligo today to celebrate the opening of the 63rd Flead Cheoil na hÉireann. The Fleadh Cheoil is a key moment in the Irish cultural calendar and it is an event which marks the culmination of much activity in communities across the country and indeed internationally throughout the year. It is an occasion which allows us to celebrate the very best of Irish culture: our music, song, dance and language, in all their diversity.]
During the coming week, musicians, singers and dancers in the Irish tradition from all over the world will compete at the highest level in their chosen art forms. Over ten thousand competitors have emerged from the nationwide and worldwide qualifying Fleadhanna – involving over twenty five thousand participants.
There can be no doubt of the power of the Fleadh in reminding us of how our music, song and dance binds us as a people with a shared heritage and culture and connects us to a large Diaspora who have brought that heritage to many other parts of the globe and who have, in turn, reflected that culture back to us in new, fresh and exciting variations.
Indeed, I am sure that among the participants of this year’s Fleadh we will find many competitors who have neither ancestral nor geographic links to this island but who, for cultural reasons, feel a kinship with the Irish and a love for the folk traditions we have given the world. I welcome all those who have travelled from overseas for this event and I hope you are enjoying our traditional Irish hospitality.
Here in Ireland we have a rich and proud history of artistic creativity in its many different forms. We are a country whose successes in the eyes of so many in the world have been in the cultural and spiritual areas, and grounded in our understanding of the relationship between the cultural and the spiritual – this can be seen in our humanitarian, peace-building and human rights work – in our literature, art, drama and song – and in how that drama and song have helped us cope with adversity, soothed the very pain which they describe so well.
As we stand in the heart of Yeats Country and as we prepare to celebrate next year one of Sligo’s and Ireland’s most famous son’s 150th anniversary in 2015, I recall his beautiful lines:
That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Words which so compellingly remind us of the power of music to evoke a place, capture a mood, and at its purest level to immortalise a moment in time; engaging with a fleeting present in order to create something that will be lasting and beautiful. All of this rich flux of life and nature, of exile loss, of youth and age has been captured in the music, not as the existence of any one generation but of several, by different circumstances. The music grew in this new setting and at home often survived where the language was being lost.
This is the area where both William Butler and Jack Yeats grew up, to which they returned often as adults and where William is buried. It is a place of forests, rivers and lakes, with a coastline that varies from long sandy beaches to high limestone ridges. Ben Bulben dominates in the north, while in the south there is Lough Gill, within its centre the lake Isle of Inisfree, which is of course the subject of another of Yeats’ poems. William Butler Yeats’ work is steeped in the landscape, folklore and mythology which surround us here in Sligo and he understood the importance of mythology, tradition and the challenge of preserving our heritage while weaving it into a newer, more modern version of itself, and of offering it to the wider world. This, I believe, ties in perfectly with the Fleadh Cheoil’s aims.
It is also fitting that the Fleadh is here in Sligo because this county can also lay claim to so many of the seminal and contemporary composers and practitioners of traditional music, including, for example, MICHAEL COLEMAN who was born in the townland of Knockgraine, Killavil, Co. Sligo on 31st January, 1891. He was surrounded by fiddle players of great skill, musicians like Philip O’Beirne, P.J. McDermott and later John O’Dowd.
While he had developed a keen interest in the fiddle as a boy, at the age of 23 he went to work in New York as a performer with Keith Theatres, a travelling vaudeville with venues in many of the major U.S. cities.
During the 1920′s and 1930′s Michael Coleman made over 80 commercial recordings with major recording companies and his records were to have a major impact on musicians back in Ireland – an influence on traditional music which long outlasted his own lifetime. He was certainly one of the most influential traditional musicians of the twentieth century, his legacy extending far beyond his native South Sligo. Although he has had many imitators, Coleman’s combination of superb technical ability and deeply expressive playing has had few, if any equals.
To this day, the Coleman Traditional Irish Music Centre is a celebration of Irish Music, Culture and Heritage as expressed in the South Sligo Style of music. This community based enterprise in Gurteen is dedicated to ensuring that the tradition of Irish music remains a living one ‘an traidisiún beo’ and that it continues to be enjoyed by all ages and nationalities.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an uile duine a bhfuil baint acu leis an Fleadh Cheoil. De réir a chéile a thógtar na caisleáin agus is íontach agus is spreagúil an chaisleán í an féile seachtaine seo atá á cheiliúradh againn inniu. Cé go bhfuil an ceol, an damhsa agus an amhranaíocht i gcroílár na Fleidhe i gcónaí, is ceiliúradh í freisin ar na nithe sin a bhaineann go dlúth leis an tÉireannachas – ár stair, ár ndrámaíocht, ár n-ollás. Tarraingíonn sí ar ár radharca áille tire a insíonn scéal na hÉireann chomh follasach leis na scéalta agus na hamhráin féin. Ba ceart go mbeadh an Fleadh ina ceiliúradh ar an bpobal agus ar rannpháirtíocht ghníomhach, a léirítear trína shásta is atáimid ár gcuid tradisiún, ár gcuid buanna, agus ár gcuid scileanna a roinnt san iliomad ceardlann agus taispeántas a bheidh ar siúl sna laethanta amach róinn. Labhair mé cheana ar an fhlaithiúlacht lena dtugtar ceoltóirí nua isteach i seisiúin ceoil agus ar an spreagadh a fhaigheann said iontu. Cur chuige den sort sin atá ag teastáil ónar dteanga.
[I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the Fleadh Cheoil. From small beginnings this event has now become the magnificent and exciting week-long festival we celebrate today. While music, dance and song remain at its very heart the Fleadh also provides an opportunity for a true celebration of all that is unique and splendid about our Irish culture – our history, our drama, our pageantry. It involves our beautiful landscapes, evocative as they are as any song or story. Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann should also be a celebration of community and active participation, shown by our willingness to share our traditions, talents and skills through the many workshops and exhibitions which will take place over the coming days. I have spoken before of the generosity with which new performers are being welcomed to sessions and the encouragement they are receiving. We must have a similar approach to the use of our language.]
In conclusion, I would like to thank and congratulate all those who are involved with Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2014; an occasion which has, over the years developed from a two-day – primarily musical – event to an eight-day festival with a hugely diverse range of cultural activities and amenities attracting some 300,000 visitors from Ireland and abroad to share in this great celebration of Irish heritage.
Your programme of performances, exhibitions and workshops is a truly impressive one which reflects the imagination, dedication and hard work which has been invested in the planning of this event. Over the coming days we will see an inspiring blend of the culture that has shaped us in both its traditional and its re-imagined forms, with older genres of entertainment connecting with freshly inspired evolutions.